To win a Caples award, get creative

In many ways, the secret to winning a Caples Award isn’t that different from winn­ing any other direct marketing prize: First, you need to impress the judges. However, these aren’t your average judges.

“What separates the Caples from all other direct marketing awards is that each of our judges are creative directors with a minimum of five years experience,” says Patrick Fultz, president and COO of the John Caples International Awards. “Impressing them is a matter of having a piece that creatively solves a marketing problem in a unique way, something that makes the judges stand up and say, ‘I wish I’d done that.’”

The Caples Awards, now in its 31st year, is the only awards show in direct marketing judged primarily on creativity. It’s a difference that’s felt throughout the entire process.

“The judges see a lot of ideas that are recycled, so they have to see things that are brave and entertain them,” says Dun­can Gray, executive creative director at Proximity. “There are these moments in judging that people gather around to see something — delighted by humor or eccen­tricity or bravery. Those are the moments when the winners emerge.”

“This is where business meets art,” adds Jim Thomas, creative director at WWAV Rapp in the UK and a longtime Caples judge. “Business has problems — and the oldest problem is that you have to sell things. The Caples recognizes how creative you’ve been in solving those problems.”

Of course, there is more to winning a Caples than being clever. It is, first and foremost, a direct marketing award, so entries must contain a clear call to action. That can be as simple as asking people to visit a Web site or imploring them to donate money. But it must ask its audi­ence to do something.

“It has to have a clear call to action intended to drive a response or build a relationship,” said Gary Scheiner, execu­tive creative director at TBWAChiatDay and the Caples board member who leads the judging process. “A lot of work gets killed because it’s really a brand spot.”

As a creative award, the Caples does not weigh results as an official judging category. However, that doesn’t mean the outcome doesn’t matter. The ability to drive behavior — to get a consumer to take some kind of action, no matter how small — is a key element to creativity as defined by the Caples.

“We know good creativity is effec­tive,” said Gray. “It’s creativity that gets a response.”

Other things to remember: Keep entries simple, as they will be judged quickly, especially in the early rounds; limit write-ups to 200 words; include results, but don’t get bogged down in details; be sure your entry is in the proper category, or it could be rejected outright; and double-check the facts of your campaign.

And of course, keep in mind why it is you are trying to win a Caples.

“This is still the only direct marketing award that is wholly international and is only judged by creative directors, and that is something that is unique,” said Gray. “That’s what people come for, and that’s what drives the awards: just celebrating great creative ideas.”

Entries will be accepted for the John Caples International Awards until September 29. Visit to enter or e-mail [email protected].

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